Saturday, February 28, 2015

Multi-tasking staff is the eyes and ears at ministries

During the second term of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, every time the former head of a particular commodity exchange would visit the consumer affairs ministry, the peons - officially called the multi-tasking staff - would rush to open the door of his car and escort him to the minister's office. They would carry his briefcase, make him comfortable in the waiting room and offer him tea. The grapevine has it that they would get a hefty tip from this high-profile visitor for their hospitality.

Officially, the multi-tasking staff's job includes ferrying files from the minister's room to the section office, keeping the office tidy, running errands, fetching tea and escorting guests. Their day is packed, beginning at 9 in the morning and often stretching beyond the prescribed eight hours. What doesn't constitute their brief is exchanging information and gossip in return for tips and gifts. The recent arrest of some members of the multi-tasking staff in connection with the smuggling of what is believed were crucial documents from the
petroleum ministry has brought the spotlight on these junior-most government employees.

These are people who are known for not only getting things done, but are also the custodians of crude intelligence regarding developments in the ministries and government offices. This was evident during the transition of power from
UPA to the National Democratic Alliance government in May last year. During the first week, the peons posted in a high-profile ministry that was seen as a major hurdle in the way of big-ticket projects were confused about which lobbyists to side with. They studied the movements and body language of the lobbyists visiting the offices and soon judged the direction in which the wind was blowing.

"They can change their loyalty in minutes," says a bureaucrat, narrating how the staff refused to acknowledge the presence of a former Intelligence Bureau chief who had retired only the day before. This was despite the fact that the intelligence chief had walked those corridors for years.

It's just not lobbyists who tap the multi-tasking staff to track the movement of their files and the schedule of the bureaucrats. Journalists too rely on them for information. Many even pay them to eavesdrop on the conversations their bosses have on phone or with other ministerial staff.

They have their "prized" ministries, the ones they lobby for with the general administration office. The preferred positions are at the minister's office or at an office that involves public dealings. Like in politics, caste sometimes plays a part here. "I was shunted from the fourth floor office of a minister to the ground floor of the ministry," complains one. "I lost out because I belong to another caste."

Theirs is a much sought-after job. "Even graduates are applying for it," says one. To become a member of the multi-tasking staff, a person has to clear an examination conducted by the
Staff Selection Commission (SSC). He has to be a matriculate and should be in the age group of 18-25 years. Once he has cleared the exam, he is tested for basic language skills. The pay is "decent" - Rs 5,200 to Rs 20,200. The multi-tasking staff with an experience of 20-22 years gets, in hand, a salary of Rs 18,000-19,000 a month. This is after contributing to the provident fund, pension and medical benefits. Those employed with central government are given the benefit of the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS), which provides healthcare facilities to the employees, the pensioners and their dependants. Besides other benefits, they are also entitled to a government quarter.

Not all members of the multi-tasking staff, however, had to appear for a test to get the job. Those who were employed before the
Sixth Pay Commission joined through the employment exchange on temporary basis but were later made permanent. Many were hired on the recommendation of influential officials or secretaries.

There are also those who join on contractual basis. Each ministry is entitled to hire multi-tasking staff on contract through tenders. The terms include police verification and a guarantee of minimum wages, provident fund and insurance. "My contractor pays me Rs 8,500 a month," says a 30-year-old contractual worker who joined three months ago. He is not a matriculate, so he cannot take up the job through the SSC selection process.

But there are many others who would rather slog it out to make it in. The job, after all, comes with plenty of "perks".


Extension Ad-hoc Recognition of Service Association of employees of N/S Departmental Canteens/TRs of Central govt. Offices under CCS (RSA), Rules 1993 –regarding

Minutes of the 26th meeting of Standing Committee of Voluntary Agencies (SCOVA) held on 03rd February, 2015 under the Chairmanship of Hon'ble MOS (PP).

Notified Recruitment Rules of various posts under each Ministry/Department.

Multi-tasking staff is the eyes and ears at ministries